There is no performer who appears more utterly naked than the stand-up comedian. Except, of course, the all-nude dancer. But then an all-nude dancer isn't supposed to make you laugh. A comedian is. Either way, it's a bad place to get a sudden attack of humility. But let's say you've climbed that mountaintop. You're Jerry Seinfeld. You've made millions of people laugh. You've made an inexhaustible fortune. Your TV show was voted the best comedy of all time. And everywhere you go, people love you to pieces. You've got a big house on Long Island, a wife and a new baby. What do you do now?
"Comedian" is a new documentary co-produced by Jerry Seinfeld in which director Christian Charles follows him around as he tries out new material at tiny comedy clubs. "I was huge." says Seinfeld to a few dozen lucky audience members. "So what am I doing here?" Maybe he's just indulging himself, and the filmmakers are indulging him, but if you can get past that there's a surprisingly enlightening journey through the insecurity that drives even the most successful comic, and quite possibly every performer who has taken the stage. As a jazz-infused soundtrack plays, Seinfeld pilots his Porsche between dim little Manhattan nightclubs, looking for one more unnannouced gig before last call. He less resembles a comedian returning to his roots than a heroin addict chasing down a fix. The fame and adoration opens the door, but it’s a special brand of insecurity that keeps driving him around. Fellow millionaire comics including Ray Romano, Jay Leno, Colin Quinn and Chris Rock appear to commiserate and if we didn’t already appreciate the vulnerability of the stand-up comic, we are also asked to understand that the job is work. Hard work. Work that Jerry Seinfeld really doesn't need. Yet here he is at another Laugh Factory somewhere in New Jersey at midnight.
At one unannounced gig Seinfeld bumps an up and coming comic named Orny Adams from the line-up. The directors then follow Adams as he attempts to make his own jump from comedy club to TV star. If comedy were organized crime, Seinfeld would be Tony Soprano to Orny’s Chistopher Moltisanti, the hotheaded nephew prone to ignoring prudent advice. A bundle of arrogance, insecurity and raw nerves, it's hard to root for Orny, but harder still to root against him. No director, not even Alfred Hitchcock, has made my heart beat faster and my palms more sweaty than Charles did following the hyperkinetic Orny from the green room to his first televised appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Then it's back to Seinfeld as he goes to pay his own respects to an even more august Godfather. Backstage with Bill Cosby, Seinfeld marvels at the 63 year old legend, another comedian who climbed the mountaintop but remains restless. Seinfeld simply can't believe how Cosby can come up with two hours of new material. And deliver two shows a day. Driving home in his Porsche afterwards Seinfeld simply marvels that he lived long enough to know his childhood idol. If you’ve ever wondered what Jerry Seinfeld might look like with genuine emotion on his face, this is the place. And it might be worth the price of admission.
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 11/02
U.S. - 2002